Reineke Reitsma [Posted by Reineke Reitsma]

When the last time you sat in a meeting and Twitter wasn’t mentioned? But is Twitter really the new thing or will it follow the likes of Second Life? In early 2007 our take on Second Life was that “while it’s great fun, virtual worlds are often little more than elite social clubs — populated by gamers or über-geeks. Building stores or holding press conferences in Second Life may be great for PR but shouldn't be viewed as a mass communication mechanism.” Second Life is still out there and has a dedicated following and we actually expect to see virtual worlds back on the agenda end of 2009/early 2010. But as with many new consumer technologies, the early overexposure in the media and an ill-considered marketing frenzy led to a backlash and disappointment. Which lessons can market researchers learn from Second Life?

Forrester recently published a report that states that nearly 5 million people use Twitter. But who are these people? Twitter is still in very early adopter stage: About 3% of US adults post Twitter updates regularly. It is very much a thing of the youth as this number goes up to 8% for the 18 to 24 years old. Part of the 5 million subscribers mentioned above are dormant users, 8% of US adults told us that they’ve tried Twitter but they don’t use it regularly.

Base: Total US Online Adults
I use Twitter regularly; I write and follow others' updates 3%
I've tried Twitter, but don't use it regularly 8%
I follow Twitter updates from others, but I've never written one 4%
I don't use Twitter 85%
Source: Forrester North American Technographics Interactive Marketing Online Survey, Q2 2009 (US)

So Twitter is used regularly by a small group of US adults, mainly young consumers. But how does their usage compare to other social activities like social networks or blogs? We’ve asked US adults which company or brand related activities they’ve done in the past 3 months, and ‘reading a blog written by a company or brand’ was done most, with ‘becoming a fan of a brand on a social network’ on second place. A low 2% of US adults actually said they followed a brand via Twitter in the past three months:

Done in the past 3 months: 
Base: Total US Online Adults
Followed a brand or company on Twitter 2%
Became a fan of a brand or company on a social networking site 10%
"Friended" a brand or company on a social networking site 6%
Read a blog written by a company or brand 17%
Source: Forrester North American Technographics Interactive Marketing Online Survey, Q2 2009 (US)

With only 2% of US adults following brands on Twitter, does this mean you shouldn’t pay attention to it? No. Twitter definitely has potential, especially when you’re targeting young consumers. But your company shouldn’t dive into it without doing some prep work: To determine if Twitter would work for your company, use Twitter's search function ( to determine the volume of talk around your brand. If there are multiple results per hour, then your company should prepare to engage. If brand mentions are rare or non-existent, then recognize that your brand needs to work harder to generate interest; and it may not be worth the effort.

And the next time Twitter is mentioned as the panacea? You’ll have the facts to introduce reality.